As he pondered his administration’s choices for standard bearer, President Benigno Aquino 3rd said presidential campaign debates should focus on his achievements.
Over state radio, he remarked last Friday: “This, to my mind, is the center of the issue: Who will be more trustworthy to carry on the legacy that I will leave behind?”
What Aquino has done to the nation should indeed be a major election. Debating it would not only set a baseline for future public policy directions and performance targets.
It could also publicly dispell myths and set the record straight on what the administration has actually achieved, especially in eradicating poverty and corruption, promoting democracy and the rule of law, and advancing national security and foreign relations.
Then the electorate can better decide whether or not to continue with Aquino’s brand of governance by electing his preferred successor.
So in the year ahead toward the polls next May, aspiring Chief Executives would do the nation a great service by addressing most, if not all of the following questions in key governance areas of the Aquino regime:
Did Aquino engineer the economic resurgence?
The administration’s main claim to success lies in the string of 6-7 percent growth since 2012 and the credit rating upgrades for foreign borrowings of the national government. But how much of those gains are attributable to Aquino? Specifically, which policies and initiatives did he undertake which significantly spurred economic expansion?
Was it the tough fiscal reforms cited by international debt agencies in upgrading Philippine sovereign debt? Did Aquino’s public-private partnership program hugely augment infrastructure, the perennial area of concern among investors? Or have public works and growth suffered due to PPP delays and chronic underspending since 2011?
Have poverty programs uplifted the poor?
Expanded to P40 billion a year since 2012, the conditional cash transfer monthly stipends for poor families, inherited from the Arroyo government, is Aquino’s key anti-poverty strategy. How much has CCT and economic growth reduced destitution?
Not much, going by the government’s own data. Poverty incidence has remained at about 20 percent since 2009. Quarterly hunger incidence, polled by Social Weather Stations, affirms the limited gains. In 2011-14, it averaged 19.4 percent, higher than the 19.1 percent average during the global recession and the Ondoy and Pepeng megafloods in 2009.
Has Aquino made big gains against graft?
Administration supporters often cite the no-bail detention of former President Gloria Arroyo and three opposition senators on corruption charges as singular accomplishments in the fight against graft.
Critics, however, point to the clique of Aquino classmates, allies and shooting buddies (KKK by its Filipino initials). No KKK crony has been made accountable the way political rivals have been, prompting Catholic bishops to decry “selective prosecution” of pork barrel graft.
No doubt the debates would ask what Aquino has done about major irregularities like: the disappearance of more than 2,000 untaxed and uninspected cargo containers in 2011, the billion-peso police firearms bidding Aquino himself ordered investigated in 2013, the Metro Rail Transit maintenance contract awarded to a crony consortium, the reported $30-million bribe demand made to Czech rail firm Inekon for an MRT contract, and tens of billions of pesos in misspending found by state auditors in the Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, and Tourism Departments, and the third batch of pork barrel cases which Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said are no longer her priority.
Opposition candidates may cite this column’s February 26 article, “The Tuwid na Daan Myth”, which stated: “In the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer survey by Transaparency International, nearly one-fifth of GCB respondents in the country said corruption ‘increased a lot’ since the TI poll in 2010. Another 12 percent said sleaze got a little worse, with nearly a third finding no improvement under Aquino. A further 35 percent thought graft ‘decreased a little’. That’s almost nine out of ten Filipinos not greatly impressed with Tuwid na Daan.”
Are democracy and the rule of law strengthened?
Opposition legislators have exposed the use of pork barrel funds in inducing lawmakers to pass Aquino’s pet bills and impeach his perceived enemies. This apparent assault on democracy and governance would undoubtedly come up in presidential debates.
So would other administration actions seen by critics as undermining democracy and the rule of law. One is the blatant disregard and open criticism of Supreme Court rulings, including unanimous decisions declaring pork barrel allocations unconstitutional. Presidential meddling in court cases involving leading politicians would also be raised.
Aquino statements preempting ongoing investigations, like the Mamasapano massacre probe, is another rule of law concern. Ditto the actions of Cabinet officials defying express court orders, such as the High Court voiding of Justice Secretary de Lima’s 2011 travel ban on former president Gloria Arroyo and her husband, and the Court of Appeals restraining order on the suspension of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay this year.
Has Aquino made Filipinos safer and more secure?
Crime fighting and prevention and disaster relief and risk reduction are life-and-death public concerns sure to figure in presidential campaign forums. The opposition will surely cite corrected Philippine National Police data showing that crime incidence doubled between 2010 and 2014. They would also ask what sanctions were imposed on PNP officials suspended and investigated for submitting false crime data, which made it appear that crime was declining under Aquino.
On calamities, the administration bet may wish to expound on how Aquino has implemented the 2010 National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, including the mandated creation of a billion-peso DRRM agency similar to the U.S.
Federal Emergency Management Administation. He or she can also detail projects have been funded by the billion-peso People Protection Fund enacted nearly three years ago to safeguard calamity-prone communities.
This article has no more room to discuss them, but also major security concerns are the Bangsamoro Agreement and draft bill, and the China territorial frictions and the US military deployment in the country.
The nation would surely look forward to presidential forums discussing the above issues. Indeed, if media held such debates, maybe when Aquino ends his fifth year in office on June 30, many Filipinos would tune in to see exactly what he has done to us.